High on the list of things I ought to understand but don’t (as an alleged expert on the media biz) is what Rupert Murdoch and Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson are up to with their escalating anti-Google rhetoric.
So if Google is a parasite, “stealing” their content, why not simply opt out of being indexed by Google? They could do it this afternoon if they wished.
The fighting words sound more like a negotiating posture to me, but what’s to be negotiated? There is a theory bouncing through the blogosphere, with scant evidence but a certain logic: Maybe Murdoch’s game is to forge an agreement with Microsoft’s Bing to be a preferred or exclusive carrier of News Corp.’s content.
Particularly if some other important publishers were to follow (no collusion, though, boys and girls), Microsoft would get what it painfully needs — some compelling advantage in certain search realms that would draw traffic away from Google, which as of October had 65 percent of the search market.
Simply withdrawing from Google or erecting a higher pay wall would hurt News Corp. more than it would hurt Google. The Wall Street Journal’s site was re-engineered early in Murdoch’s tenure to make more WSJ Online articles free and summaries of the rest searchable, while maintaining the site’s lucrative online paid subscriber base. Some call it having your cake and eating it too.
From Google’s perspective, CEO Eric Schmidt and his lieutenant Marissa Mayer have consistently said that the company sees the huge traffic it generates to news sites as a sort of good deed [PDF] for the struggling industry. Life at Google would rock along without that content, according to Schmidt.
But a broad movement of branded news sites to a preferred relationship with Bing would not be so easy to shrug off. Microsoft could become an important player in the paid content equation. Google might counterbid to prevent that from happening.
Murdoch hasn’t said any of this, but Associated Press CEO Tom Curley has. In one of his recent speeches on the paid content issue he said that news producers will benefit as Google and Microsoft “go to war” with each other.
Some Google loyalists like blogger Danny Sullivan are skeptical that either Microsoft or news companies would see big gains by partnering. However, I don’t think that the logic of Murdoch’s saber-rattling exactly speaks for itself — a potential Bing connection at least makes some sense of it.